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22                                                                                                           B. POLEVOI
the vibration that every airman feels with his whole body
when he discharges his guns. The magazines were empty;
he had used up all his ammunition in chasing the trans-
.     5?
But 'the enemy did not know that! Alexei decided to
plunge into the fight to improve at least the numerical
proportion between the combatants. But he was mistaken.
The fighter plane that he had unsuccessfully attacked was
piloted by an experienced and observant airman. The
German realised that his opponent's ammunition had run
out and issued an order to his colleagues. Four "Messers"
separated from the rest and surrounded Alexei, one on
each flank, one above and one below. Dictating his course
by bursts of tracer bullets that were distinctly visible in
the clear, blue air, they caught him in a double pair of
Several days before, Alexei heard that the famous
German Richthofen air division had arrived in this area,
Staraya Russa, from the West. This division was manned
by the finest aces in the fascist Reich and was under the
patronage of Goering himself. Alexei realised that he had
fallen into the clutches of these air wolves and that,
evidently, they wanted to compel him to fly to their
airfield, force him to land and take him prisoner. Cases
like that had happened. Alexei himself had seen a fighter
flight under the command of his chum, Andrei Degtya-
renko, Hero of the Soviet Union, bring a German observer
to their airfield and force him to land.
^ The long, ashen-grey face of the German prisoner and
his staggering footsteps rose before Alexei's eyes. "Taken
prisoner? Never! That trick won't come off!" he de-
But do what he would, he could not escape. The
moment he tried to swerve from the course the Germans
were dictating hirn, they barred his path with machine-
gun fire. And again the vision of the German prisoner,
his contorted face and trembling jaw, rose before Alexei's
eyes. Degrading animal fear was stamped on that face.
Meresyev clenched his teeth tightly, opened the
throttle of his engine as far as it would go and, assuming
a vertical position, tried to dive under the German
machine that was pressing him to the ground. He got out